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Car buyers perceive dealers' failure to evolve, Auto Trader report finds

Ian Plummer, Auto Trader’s commercial director

Despite the advent of online car retail platforms and an attempt to deliver soft-touch approach in showrooms, 52% of car buyers feel that the sales process has not changed.

Consumer insight gathered for Auto Trader’s Car Buyers Report showed that fewer than half of UK car buyers saw evidence of any evolution of the sale process and 14% actually claimed that it had become more difficult.

And as the perception of car retailers seems to be of a sector that has failed to evolve, the issue of brand loyalty is making it even harder for many franchisees to retain custom, as the respondents to the survey of 1,316 car buyers revealed that, on average, 4.3 brands are considered before a purchase along with 2.1 car types and 1.7 fuel types.

More worrying were the trends seen among younger car buyers. 86% of under 24s expressed a desire to see the car retail process improve as 92% told Auto Trader that they were unsure as to whether they could trust a car retailer.

Ian Plummer, Auto Trader’s commercial director, admitted that the results of this year’s Car Buyers Report painted “a disappointing picture of the UK automotive industry” upon “first look”, adding that “Consumers are frustrated by a complex process, and as a result slowing up sales at a time when the industry need them most”.

But he added: “With one in three car buyers stating they would have bought their car sooner if they’d had a smoother experience, there are clearly some huge opportunities for retailers and manufacturers.

“By disrupting the process, either through small but impactful incremental steps, or by taking more profound action, the industry can make the process of buying a car easier and faster for customers, and as a result increase stock turn, making it more profitable.”

Two years after Auto Trader’s Car Buyers Report, the 2019 edition revealed that rather than experiencing the traditional linear retail journey, car buyers in fact face more than 30 different ‘jobs to be done’, each framed around their needs, what they can afford, the type of car, and the actual purchase process.

The report found that these potential “pain points” led to 23% of car buyers spending more time on the process, 19% becoming bored, 16% confused, and 15% dreading buying a car. Most worryingly, 42% are less likely to carry on in the process, it said. 

The research found 65% of car buyers felt that they must do as much research as possible before they visit a dealership, but added that 34% of consumers who bought a new car, and 26% of those who bought used, said that speaking to a helpful retailer was the biggest accelerator to purchase – marking out reliable advice from a retailer as a vital part of the buying process.

“For one-in-five car buyers a great showroom experience means neutral advice and opinions from a retailer who is genuinely interested in their needs”, Auto Trader said.

“A great dealership experience is more likely to make 77% of consumers buy a car from them and 79% to return.”

Auto Trader identified a number of potential sticking points in the buying process which should be addressed by car retailers.

They were:

  • Fast response: Whether via email, text or phone calls, retailers should respond quickly to customer enquiries and provide accurate information that will help them in their process. Slow responses add to the frustration and slows the process down even further.
  • ‘Real’ price: Struggling to work out the ‘real’ price is one of car buyers’ biggest frustrations, particularly amongst younger consumers: 80% of 18-24-year olds identified it as a pain point. Brands and retailers should feature the total cost of a car including the RRP and the monthly cost, ensuring the APR and balloon payments are all clear. Where possible include the running costs too as 80% of car buyers find it difficult to work out. 
  • Avoid catches: Retailers must avoid administrative or ‘process’ fees: 83% of buyers considering a new or used car identified hidden costs or ‘catches’ as a major pain point, perpetuating the reputation of dealers as untrustworthy.
  • Comparison: Brands should add comparison functionality to their websites, which includes new and used cars together – car buyers do not search in silos and the inability to compare side-by-side is particularly frustrating, especially to young people. 90% of 18-24-year olds saw this is a major pain point.
  • Stock availability: Often a car buyer will only discover their choice is not available once they’re ready to purchase, potentially wasting weeks of research and job completion: 73% of new car buyers experienced this pain point. Alleviate this frustration by making it easier for them to source online.


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